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Vatican’s secretary of state rues Russia’s absence at Ukraine peace conference

The Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin attends a plenary session at the summit on peace in Ukraine at the luxury Burgenstock resort near Lucerne, Switzerland, on June 16, 2024. / Credit: ALESSANDRO DELLA VALLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Jun 21, 2024 / 15:25 pm (CNA).

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin this week appealed for dialogue between Russia and Ukraine amid their ongoing war while noting the absence of Russia at the Swiss conference on peace in Ukraine. 

“Peace is always made together,” he said June 19 as reported by Vatican News. 

Parolin led an observer delegation from the Vatican to the Conference for Peace in Ukraine, held in Switzerland June 15–16. About 100 delegations, mostly from Western countries, attended the conference, AP News reported. Russia was not invited.

Parolin in a statement following the conference reaffirmed the Holy See’s commitment to maintain “regular communication with the Ukrainian and Russian authorities” and assist in potential mediation initiatives, Vatican News said.

Parolin also said the Holy See is greatly concerned about the tragic humanitarian consequences of the war “and is especially committed to facilitating the repatriation of children and encouraging the release of prisoners, especially seriously wounded soldiers and civilians.”

“On behalf of Pope Francis,” Parolin concluded, “I wish to confirm his personal closeness to the tormented Ukrainian people and his unwavering commitment to peace.“

Pope Francis, and Parolin, have repeatedly called for dialogue between Russia and Ukraine as a means of brokering peace in the now two-year-long Russian war of aggression. However, the pope faced criticism when on March 20 he suggested that “the strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, and negotiates.”

“When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, you have to have the courage to negotiate,” the pope said. At the time, Parolin issued clarifying remarks in an interview with Corriere della Sera, saying that it is incumbent upon Russia “as the aggressor” to “put an end to the aggression.”

In his more recent remarks, Parolin said that in the face of war, it is crucial to continue to seek ways to end the conflict “with good intentions, trust, and creativity.”

Parolin has in the past reiterated that Ukraine has a “legitimate” right to defend itself from Russian aggression, but he also has warned that weapons being sent there by other countries could lead to a “terrible” escalation of the war.

In mid-2023, Pope Francis asked Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi to serve as a papal envoy to “initiate paths of peace” between Russia and Ukraine. However, Parolin has since clarified that Zuppi’s mission does not have mediation as its immediate goal.

EWTN earns multiple accolades at 2024 Gabriel Awards

The first season of the EWTN series “James the Less” received the Best Video award at the 2024 Gabriel Awards presentation on June 20, 2024, in Atlanta. / Credit: Ken Oliver-Méndez/CNA

Atlanta, Ga., Jun 21, 2024 / 14:55 pm (CNA).

The 58th annual Gabriel Awards saw EWTN, the world’s largest Catholic media organization, win five awards in multiple categories in recognition of “outstanding artistic achievement in a television or radio program or series that entertains and enriches with a true vision of humanity and true vision of life.”

Sponsored by the Catholic Media Association, this year’s awards took place on June 20 within the context of the association’s annual conference in Atlanta. EWTN News President and COO Montse Alvarado and National Catholic Register Editor-in-Chief Shannon Mullen accepted the awards for Best Feature Film, Best Video, Best Television Special Event Coverage, Best Single News Story, and Best Short Documentary on behalf of their colleagues.

Winning first place for Best Single News Story, “EWTN News in Depth” anchor Catherine Hadro took the top spot for her story on the life of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, whose body was exhumed in May 2023 in an unexpected state of preservation.

EWTN News in Depth anchor Catherine Hadro took the top spot for her story on the life of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. Credit: Ken Oliver-Méndez/CNA
EWTN News in Depth anchor Catherine Hadro took the top spot for her story on the life of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. Credit: Ken Oliver-Méndez/CNA

Winning along with Hadro for the report were EWTN News editor Andrew Spangenberg and videographer Craig Campbell.

Taking top honors for Best Television Special Event Coverage was EWTN’s 2023 World Youth Day coverage, led by EWTN News correspondent Colm Flynn along with Eleonora Vescovini and Father Mark Mary, MFVA. EWTN Vice President of Programming and Production Peter Gagnon was also among the network’s award winners for his role as executive producer of the network’s coverage of the event.

Meanwhile, Season 1 of EWTN’s innovative series “James the Less” received the prestigious Best Video award. EWTN Director of Studio Operations Stephen Beaumont worked with EWTN producers Michael Masny and Greg Hendrick to develop the scripts for the five-part romantic comedy.

Speaking of the series, whose second season is currently in production, Beaumont told CNA: “The narratives provide an opportunity to attract people who might not otherwise watch Catholic programs. Our hope is that Catholics and non-Catholics alike will find the show entertaining and that atheists will gain insight into what Catholics believe.”

The global Catholic network, the parent company of CNA, also took first place in the feature film category for “Faith of Our Fathers,” a riveting original film about a Catholic priest defending the faith against the 19th-century English penal laws and the determination of the Irish community to protect him in the face of unrelenting persecution. EWTN President Doug Keck in his capacity as executive producer of the film received the award, along with fellow executive producer Aidan Gallagher, director Campbell Miller, and producer John Elson.

Finally, the network’s short documentary “Alive in Christ — The Eucharistic Martyrs” also took top spot in its category. The documentary brings to life the account of the first Christians and their courageous struggle to live their faith in the midst of persecution. Once again, Keck received the award in his capacity as the documentary’s executive producer, along with fellow executive producers Elson and David Sipoš, who was also the director.

In addition, EWTN News anchor Hadro also won the Best Podcast — Single Episode award for her role as co-host and producer of the “Purposeful Lab” podcast “Is Extraterrestrial Life Compatible with Christianity?” produced by the Magis Center and co-host Dr. Daniel Kuebler.

The Catholic Media Association notes that “the Gabriel Awards have been a beacon of inspiration since their inception in 1965, encouraging media professionals to create works that serve, enrich, challenge, and uplift audiences.”

Commenting on the wins for the network, EWTN Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board Michael Warsaw said “this year’s Gabriel Awards are particularly meaningful to EWTN as our submissions reflected the broad range of productions the team is committed to bringing our audience— from an online digital series aimed at young audiences to the deeply meaningful story of determination of our Irish forefathers, to our wall-to-wall coverage of World Youth Day.”

Warsaw added: “We’re grateful to the Catholic Media Association board and the award selection committee for their recognition and support of the team’s hard work and are honored to stand alongside the other nominees and winners that seek to share the truth of our faith with the world through media.” 

For her part, EWTN News President and COO Alvarado observed that “the recognition of the ‘EWTN News In Depth’ team’s coverage of the life of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster is especially significant as Catherine Hadro takes on the role of host of the program this week. We’re all grateful for the recognition from our peers in the Catholic media space and applaud the other nominees and winners for their submissions.”

Diocese of Rome closes first step toward sainthood for young wife and mother

An attendee holds a photo of Chiara Corbella Petrillo at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into her life and virtues in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. / Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Jun 21, 2024 / 14:25 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Rome on Friday officially closed the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo, a joyful 28-year-old wife and mother who died from cancer in 2012 in Rome.

“We strongly trust that the Church, after a careful and accurate discernment of her life and virtues, will want to soon celebrate also on Earth this daughter of our Church of Rome and propose her as an example of Christian life to contemporary Christian generations,” Bishop Baldassare Reina said at the closing ceremony June 21.

Reina, vice regent of the Diocese of Rome, presided over the session in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, where the inquiry was opened nearly six years ago on Sept. 21, 2018.

Diocese of Rome officials seal documents at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Diocese of Rome officials seal documents at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Corbella, Reina said, shows us that “holiness is possible and it is the only path that makes us happy. Let us enjoy, or rather I would say, let us savor this moment, with all the processes that will be explained to us.”

Hundreds of people attended the session despite temperatures reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the city of Rome. More than 3,000 people also watched a video livestream of the event on the YouTube page of the diocese.

The servant of God’s family sat in the first row of the basilica for the ceremony and included Corbella’s husband, Enrico Petrillo; their 13-year-old son, Francesco Petrillo; her parents Roberto Corbella and Maria Anselma Ruzziconi; and her sister Elisa Corbella.

In an interview before the session, Enrico Petrillo told CNA the closing of the diocesan phase for beatification “brings me so much peace.”

“The most beautiful testimony, he said, is this one made by the Church herself, because it is necessary for the Church to say, ‘Yes, what you have experienced is really something great.’” 

During the closing session on Friday, diocesan officials tied up the documents and sealed them with wax. The beatitudes were also read and everyone sang hymns and prayed together the Our Father and the Glory Be in thanksgiving for the life of Corbella.

Diocese of Rome officials seal documents at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Diocese of Rome officials seal documents at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Corbella’s cause for beatification was opened exactly five years after her death, following the requirements of canon law.

With the closing of the diocesan investigation into her life, virtues, and sanctity, documented testimonies and other materials will now be sent to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints for further scrutiny.

The next step in the process will be for the pope to recognize her as someone who lived a life of heroic virtue and declare her venerable. Corbella will then need two miracles attributed to her intercession to be declared a saint. 

Corbella’s life and message

Corbella met her husband at the age of 18 while on a pilgrimage to Međugorje. They married six years later in Assisi on Sept. 21, 2008. Within the first two years of their marriage, they suffered the death of two children, Maria Grazia Letizia and Davide Giovanni, both of whom died less than an hour after birth from incurable disabilities.

Friends and family of Chiara Corbella Petrillo attend the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into her life and virtues in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Friends and family of Chiara Corbella Petrillo attend the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into her life and virtues in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Despite receiving the terminal diagnoses in pregnancy, Corbella chose to carry her babies to term.

Enrico Petrillo told CNA on June 21 that the couple made the decision to let their babies die a natural death in their parents’ arms because “for us they were lives, they existed and they were not problems to be eliminated. ... This, in my opinion, is a core part of our experience: the fact of safeguarding life.”

Sometimes Catholics use the language to “defend life,” he continued. “Life is not even to be defended, it is to be guarded, which is perhaps a nuance, but it is a nuance that Chiara helps us to grasp, because those who ‘defend’ have enemies. We don’t have any enemies and we embraced [the story] the Lord was writing.”

Rome Vice Regent Baldassare Reina presides at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Rome Vice Regent Baldassare Reina presides at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

“That is why it did not feel right,” he said, “to substitute ourselves for what the King of History was thinking of for us, because we knew, because we sensed, that it could be the most beautiful thing.”

Corbella became pregnant for a third time with their son Francesco in 2010 and ultrasounds showed that he was in perfect health. The joyful news was short-lived as Corbella was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors removed a tumor on her tongue that turned out to be cancerous.

As the cancer metastasized, it became difficult for Corbella to speak and see clearly. A photo of her wearing an eye patch with a big smile was taken in April 2012, less than two weeks after she learned that her condition was terminal. She prepared for death by receiving the Blessed Sacrament daily.

Corbella died on June 13, 2012, at home in her wedding gown, surrounded by her family and friends, one year after her son was born. Hundreds of people packed into the filled church at her funeral three days later.

“The most beautiful message” Corbella reveals to the world “is that we are all children like her,” Enrico Petrillo told CNA.

“And so, these years and all that we experienced help to make people understand that Chiara is not a holy card to put on an altar,” he continued. “She is like us, she is a daughter like us, she is not ... a heroine or a superhero, but she is simply a girl who knows that she is loved by God and because of that she can do anything.”

In a speech at the closing session, Reina, who is also an auxiliary bishop of Rome, recalled an important moment in the young life of Corbella. During a difficult period before her marriage to Enrico, a spiritual adviser told Corbella: “When God opens a door, no one closes it, and when God closes it, no one opens it.”

It was a reference, Reina said, to Revelation 3:7: “‘The holy one, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open.’”

Corbella wrote that “this word changed my life,” Reina said. “From that moment on, Chiara understood God as the king of history, but above all as the king of her own personal story.”

“That which God thought good, beautiful, or holy for her life, he would realize, and because of this, she should not be discouraged, nor have fear, because despite sin, trials and tribulations, sickness, and death, God is faithful!” the bishop continued.

“That verse of Revelation,” he said, “would be the hermeneutic key to understanding everything that would happen: The Lord would give to her the husband, children, time, and health in the measure that he always thought of for her.”

“Her desire to be a wife and mom, to grow old together with her husband and to raise their children, would not be realized according to her human aspirations, but in the measure and way that God had planned and without depriving her of his happiness,” the bishop said.

Corbella’s father, Roberto Corbella, told CNA on June 21: “I always say that we are lucky parents, because every day, in the news, we hear about young kids who have died in violent situations ... meanwhile [Chiara] left with a smile, meanwhile she left after telling us all, ‘I love you.’”

“Then, the fact that we see that so many people in the world rely on her helps us to accept [her death] better, in the sense that it’s clear that I would rather ... still have her sitting on my lap,” he said with tears in his eyes. “But seeing so many people ask for help certainly makes us accept everything much better.”

Pope Francis advances martyred Albanian priests along path to sainthood

Father Luigi Paliq (left) and Father Gjon Gazulli were declared martyrs by Pope Francis on June 20, 2024. / Credit: Screen capture from aciprensa.com of photo courtesy of The Order of Friars Minor, Episcopal Conference of Albania

CNA Staff, Jun 21, 2024 / 13:51 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis on Thursday advanced the cause for sainthood for two martyred Catholic priests who were killed “in hatred of the faith” in Albania in the first decades of the 20th century.

The Dicastery for the Causes of Saints made the announcement of the priests’ martyrdom and subsequent beatification in a press release on Thursday. When the pope declares that a person was martyred for the faith, that individual is beatified, and the title “Blessed” is granted.

Father Luigj Paliq was murdered in Albania in 1913, and Father Gjon Gazulli was killed in 1927. In 2016, Pope Francis beatified 38 Albanian clerics and lay Catholics who were martyred under the country’s communist regime between 1945 and 1974.

Paliq, a priest of the Order of Friars Minor in Cortemaggiore, was the rector of the Franciscan Convent of Gjakova. He defended local populations, including Muslims, from the persecutions of the Montenegrin forces that took control of the region after the First Balkan War. 

He was imprisoned, tortured, and executed by the Montenegrins on March 7, 1913. Before his death, he “confirmed his full willingness to die for Christ and for the Church,” with his last words to that effect “heard and reported by those who had witnessed his shooting.”

Gazulli was born in Dajc, Albania, in 1893. He entered the Pontifical Seminary of Skorka at age 12, being ordained a priest in 1919 after overcoming several health problems. 

He established a parochial school in the Koman region of Albania; eventually, he drew the ire of local authorities due to the religious influence he held over priests and other locals.

Arrested by the government, he was “subjected to a farce trial” and convicted on false charges. He was hanged in the square in Skorko on March 5, 1927. 

The priest died “by forgiving his killers and professing his loyalty to Christ and the Church,” the dicastery said. 

The dicastery on Thursday also put several other faithful on the path to being declared saints, including recognizing the heroic virtues of Servant of God Isaiah Columbro, an Italian priest who during his life was “much sought after for his prayers and blessings.” 

Columbro was “above all esteemed and well-liked for the indefatigable exercise of the sacrament of penance.” He died in 2004.

The Vatican also recognized the heroic virtues of the Servant of God Vicenta Guilarte Alonso, a member of the Spanish Daughters of Jesus who joined the order in 1909 and subsequently traveled to the Brazilian town of Pirenopolis to found a community there. 

She was later transferred to the municipality of Leopoldina, where she was made doorman and sacristan. Though she had earlier been deputy superior, she “humbly accepted this situation, which astonished many sisters, without protesting and expressing regret,” the dicastery said. 

She served in that role until her death in 1960. 

Democrats move to repeal federal law that forbids abortion materials in U.S. mail

U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Jun 21, 2024 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Democrats worried that a new Trump administration may use a 150-year-old federal law to stop abortion pills from being sent through the mail have announced an attempt to repeal it.

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, said in a Thursday press release on her website that she had introduced a bill to repeal the Comstock Act, a law she claimed “Republicans and anti-choice extremists want to misuse to ban abortion nationwide.”

Passed in 1873, the Comstock Act bans in part the usage of the U.S. Postal Service to send any materials that can facilitate or cause abortions.

The portions of the Comstock Act banning the mailing of abortion-causing items have not been enforced for decades, at least since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared a right to abortion under the federal constitution in Roe v. Wade.

Yet the question came up again after the court overturned Roe in June 2022 and declared that there is no federal constitutional right to abortion, sending abortion law back to legislatures and state referendums.

Smith in her announcement on Thursday said the Comstock rule is “a 150-year-old zombie law,” one that’s “long been relegated to the dustbin of history.”

“Now that Trump has overturned Roe, a future Republican administration could try to misapply this 150-year-old Comstock law to deny American women their rights, even in states where abortion rights are protected by state law,” she alleged. 

The senator said it was “too dangerous to leave this law on the books.” Multiple other Democrats signaled their support for the bill on Thursday. 

The federal Food and Drug Administration began allowing abortion pills to be sent through the mail on a temporary basis in April 2021, not long after President Joe Biden took office. The agency made the approval permanent in December 2021.

The Biden Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel said in December 2022 that mailing abortion pills does not violate federal law “where the sender lacks the intent that the recipient of the drugs will use them unlawfully.”

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, decried attempts to repeal the Comstock Act’s references to abortion-causing items.

“It’s quite astounding. Democrats in Congress must wake up every day wondering what else they can do to make it easier to end the lives of unborn children,” Tobias told CNA by text.

“These are the same people trying to shut down pregnancy centers, trying to block pregnancy centers from online search engines, and vilifying the abortion pill reversal process,” Tobias said. “This latest effort is one more attempt not to help women and babies but instead an effort to make it easier to kill preborn babies.”

“It’s sad that the Democratic Party has become the party that pushes death for the most innocent and vulnerable among us.”

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, meanwhile, said the Comstock Act repeal isn’t likely to gain traction in Congress this year, given that Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives and Democrats control the Senate, both by a narrow majority.

“The bill is unlikely to go anywhere given the makeup of the House and Senate,” a spokesman for the organization told CNA by email.

“Instead of fearmongering about how a law may be applied, Democrats should be ensuring that the FDA is actually protecting women’s health with proper safety standards for abortion drugs.”

Is there a satanic element in rock music? An expert explains

null / Credit: NOVODIASTOCK/Shuterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 21, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Claudia Caneva, an Italian professor at the Roma Tre University, gave a presentation recently on “Music and Satanism” in the course “Exorcism and Deliverance Prayer” that was held in the Italian capital and sponsored by the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and the Italian Socioreligious Research and Information Group.

Speaking with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Caneva warned about the influence that rock music and other subgenres such as heavy metal, death metal, or death rock have on the behavior of youth, mere “victims” of a cultural industry produced by the “adult world.”

Caneva, who is also a professor at the Institute of Sciences of the Pontifical Lateran University and the Salesian University of Rome, has been studying for years how artistic products influence the behavior of young people.

An author of books on the incitement of the contemporary imagination or on the relationship between music and philosophy, Caneva asserted that this type of music is harmful and can even “physiologically alter adolescents.”

“Demonic influence through music, a choice vehicle of dissemination, is a phenomenon to which we must be very attentive,” she warned.

The professor also stated that heavy metal, “which has a very piercing sound that envelops young people,” has become an object of study and is a topic “that is currently of interest to experts and researchers.”

In this regard, she recalled the case of the Italian Davide Canotti, a former follower of Marco Dimitri’s Satanic sect known as “Satan’s Children,” which was founded in 1982 in Bologna, Italy.

Canotti, Caneva noted, was interrogated by the police after he had desecrated several ossuaries in cemeteries in Italy and stolen bones of buried children.

“In his response to the authorities, he said that he had never taken drugs and that his only drug was music,” the expert pointed out. The man claimed that he listened to black metal groups in whose songs they even invited people to “destroy the tombstones and break the crosses.”

Young people, the main victims

According to Caneva, this is just one example of how Satanism is present in this type of music, which from the beginning stirs up a certain type of behavior and “induces certain emotions” in a person.

She also pointed out that music albums include subliminal invocations to Satan, although she clarified that “if you listen to it, it’s not an inevitable result that the devil is inside you.”

However, the professor noted that many exorcisms that are carried out are due to the victims listening to these types of songs.

“I believe that young people are victims of this situation, and I always ask myself: Who produces these things? Who controls them? Why are certain things allowed?” she lamented.

Along these lines, Caneva made reference to the phenomenon called “mirror neurons,” a relevant discovery of neuroscience used in the educational field that explains how neurons have a behavior similar to that of a mirror.

This dynamic shows “that the action we observe in another individual is reflected in our brain, making neurons play a decisive role in our behaviors.”

Consequently, she warned that “music is not just music, music is a show, it’s a performance,” and young people are “victims of those who produce it.”

The fundamental role of parents

Caneva stressed to ACI Prensa the importance that parents play in this area and in their role in forming their children. “Parents are educators and must be attentive, initiate a conversation with young people, fostering maturity.”

“Young people are very sensitive to neuroendocrine dynamics, and especially in adolescence, where they experience a hormonal explosion, loaded with aggressiveness and emotional affectivity,” she said.

She also reiterated that prohibiting this type of music “is of no use,” but rather it’s a process requiring a serious effort and working on awareness to make young people see that this type of music “can have very negative consequences.”

Caneva also cited the musical subgenre of Trap and other sectors of the industry such as video games or television series, which lead to “negative emotions, aggressiveness, and restlessness.”

The purpose? Hopeless and manipulable youth

Regarding the purpose pursued by a large part of the current industry, the Italian expert said that they seek “a lack of hope that destroys young people, to make them insecure and to be able to manipulate them.”

“In television series they propose ‘antiheroes’ as role models. Young people are the future and Satanism is not only found in music, those who engender war or who exploit the poor at work are also Satanic,” she emphasized.

Finally, Caneva noted that if you look at the album covers or posters of this type of musical group, Satanism “is easily identifiable.”

“But remember that Lucifer was the most beautiful of the angels on the throne of ice, and ice means indifference, something that this industry also aims to do, to make young people become cold and indifferent people,” she concluded.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Catholic abbey and Baptist university exchange land ‘to build up the kingdom’

In exchange for the transfer of the 74-acre Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) Green Campus — formerly St. Gregory’s University — to St. Gregory’s Abbey, OBU will receive two parcels of land for future development totaling 134 acres in Shawnee, just east of Oklahoma City. The abbey and the university announced the news on June 7, 2024.  / Courtesy: St. Gregory’s Abbey

CNA Staff, Jun 21, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

In a unique sign of ecumenicism, a Catholic abbey and a Baptist university are exchanging property so the abbey can receive historically significant land that once was home to the abbey’s university.

In exchange for the transfer of the 74-acre Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) Green Campus — formerly St. Gregory’s University — to St. Gregory’s Abbey, OBU will receive two parcels of land for future development totaling 134 acres in Shawnee, just east of Oklahoma City. The abbey and the university announced the news on June 7.

The abbey shared the announcement in a press release on June 7, the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, stating that the “entirety” of the former campus of St. Gregory University “once again is dedicated to the life and ministries of the monks of St. Gregory’s Abbey!”

The announcement also coincides with the 147th anniversary of “the beginning of the liturgical life of our community.”

Founded in 1875, St. Gregory’s University first began as a high school, then a college in the 1990s, and finally a university in the early 2000s. But when it closed in 2017 after the university filed for bankruptcy, it came into the ownership of OBU.

“Over the last two years, we have been in quiet conversations with the leadership of Oklahoma Baptist University as to how we might work together for the betterment of our complementary missions,” the statement read.

“Through these conversations, we discerned a path by which the abbey could exchange part of our undeveloped pastureland for the grounds and facilities that for some 120 years had served the legacy and ministries of our monastic community,” it read.

“We prayerfully considered both the opportunities and the risks that such an exchange could present and now are thrilled that the exchange has taken place,” the announcement continued. 

“The monastic community is thrilled that our historic grounds and facilities once again are available for the benefit of our mission and ministries,” Abbot Lawrence Stasyszen said in a June 7 press release.

“We were pleased that these facilities dedicated to the kingdom of God were entrusted to our brothers and sisters in Christ at OBU after the closure of St. Gregory’s University,” he noted. “Now they come back to the abbey but will continue to be accessible to the needs of OBU.” 

The abbot noted that this reflects the brotherly bond beyond between the two groups. 

“As we read in Proverbs 17:17, the bonds of Christian brothers are strengthened in times of adversity,” Stasyszen continued. “Whether it be through the closure of St. Gregory’s University or the ongoing aftermath of the 2023 tornado, our relationship has grown stronger in challenging times for the good of our institutions and of the broader community.” 

Heath Thomas, president of OBU, said in the release that the lands received from the abbey will help their community “for years to come.” 

“While we are honored to have stewarded this gift for the past several years, we are thrilled that the historic heritage of the Green Campus will go back to the abbey. It is fitting and right,” he noted. 

“Our trustees voted unanimously for this land exchange and we are both excited and hopeful as we look towards the future opportunities that will result for OBU,” said Eric Costanzo, chair of the OBU board of trustees.

“We are grateful to President Thomas and the leadership of OBU for working with us in such a positive way so that the complementary missions of OBU and the abbey can continue to flourish and be of benefit to our many constituents,” the abbot continued.

“We look forward to continuing our positive relationship with OBU to build up the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ Our Lord,” he noted. 

“Our work now begins in earnest as we seek to restore these historic grounds and facilities to their former splendor and even improve them to welcome many others to share in our life and service to the kingdom of God!” the abbey press release concluded.

Pope Francis to Lutherans: ‘Jesus Christ is the heart of ecumenism’

Pope Francis meets with a delegation from the Lutheran World Federation on June 20, 2024, in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 20, 2024 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis this morning received a delegation from the Lutheran World Federation at the Vatican and stressed that “Jesus Christ is the heart of ecumenism.”

In his talk given during the audience held in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, the Holy Father called this encounter “an important gesture of ecumenical fraternity.”

The pontiff recalled the visit of this delegation to Rome three years ago, an occasion in which they reflected on the upcoming 1,700th anniversary of the First Council of Nicaea in 2025 as an ecumenical event.

In this context, he noted that it is “a beautiful sign of hope that has a special place in the history of reconciliation between Catholics and Lutherans.

“Jesus Christ is the heart of ecumenism,” Pope Francis highlighted, at the same time noting that “he is divine mercy incarnate, and our ecumenical mission is to bear witness to this.”

The Holy Father also recalled the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” signed 25 years ago, as “another sign of hope in our history of reconciliation.” Thus the pontiff encouraged his listeners to keep it “in our memory as something always living” and to celebrate this anniversary “as a feast of hope.”

“May the God of hope be with us and continue to accompany our dialogue of truth and charity with his blessing,” Pope Francis said.

Finally, the Holy Father recalled “something beautiful” from the Orthodox bishop Zizioulas, a pioneer of ecumenism, who “used to say that he knew the date of Christian union: the day of the final judgment!”

“But in the meantime, he said, we must walk together: walk together, pray together and do works of charity together, on the way toward that ‘hyper-ecumenical’ day that will be the final judgment,” the Holy Father concluded, adding that “Zizioulas had a good sense of humor!”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

National Eucharistic Pilgrimage marches through extreme heat to bring Jesus to the people

Cows in Nebraska watch as the Eucharistic Jesus passes by. / Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

CNA Staff, Jun 20, 2024 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

Amid a brutal heat wave in the Midwest and Northeast this week, the pilgrims on each of the four legs of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage have all passed what is roughly the halfway point on their journeys to Indianapolis. 

The four pilgrimage groups — currently in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Nebraska — will converge in Indianapolis on July 16 in time for the National Eucharistic Congress from July 17–21. A cohort of 30 young men and women have committed to walking the entirety of the routes, encouraging people to join along the way as they process with the Eucharistic Jesus. The processions have attracted thousands of participants in many areas. 

“We have definitely spent a lot of this week in the heat, in the mid-90s,” said Marina Frattaroli, one of the pilgrims on the eastern Seton Route, at a Wednesday press conference. Much of the eastern U.S. is baking in unseasonably warm spring weather, with Pittsburgh under an excessive heat warning until Saturday evening. 

“On Monday, I believe that we walked 15, 16 miles in the mid-90s. And so the team definitely is feeling the heat wave … it’s another opportunity to bring out those big prayer intentions, as we unite ourselves in Christ,” she said.

The Eucharist makes its way through Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Juliana Lamb
The Eucharist makes its way through Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Juliana Lamb

Frattaroli mentioned that despite the heat, the pilgrims have been able to act as “ambassadors” several times and explain the purpose of the processions to non-Catholic onlookers. 

“There has always been a crowd with us. And even Monday, over 15 miles … there were well over 100 people, even at the smallest, and probably closer to 200 in the crowd at all times. So people are coming out, and people are even enduring the hard days together,” she said. 

Marian Route pilgrim Matthew Heidenreich told about a boat procession the group took on Shawano Lake in Wisconsin and a walk to nearby Camp Tekakwitha, where a large number of kids at the summer camp greeted the pilgrims. On Sunday, the group visited the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion near Green Bay, the site of the only approved Marian apparition in the United States. 

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage continues from the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion near Green Bay, Wisconsin, the site of the only approved Marian apparition in the United States. Credit: Emma Follett
The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage continues from the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion near Green Bay, Wisconsin, the site of the only approved Marian apparition in the United States. Credit: Emma Follett

Heidenreich said it has been a blessing to engage in service projects for the poor during the pilgrimage as well. The Marian group will soon reach Milwaukee, where dozens of events are planned. 

As told by Serra Route pilgrim Jaella Mac Au, a procession at a lake in Nebraska included an unexpected surprise — one of the vans that occasionally carries the Eucharist and the pilgrims got stuck in some sand. 

“We were just like, oh, my gosh, like, what are we gonna do, Lord? ... We asked for the prayers of St. Anthony, and praise God, our van got out. And it was just such a beautiful team bonding moment where we were digging out the van and pushing together, and it was just so beautiful to also include Our Lord in it.”

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln carries the Eucharist through Nebraska. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Bishop James Conley of Lincoln carries the Eucharist through Nebraska. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

On the southern Juan Diego Route, which began in Texas, the pilgrims endured extreme heat near the start of the route but have found respite at a retreat the last few days at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama.  

As in past weeks, the pilgrims praised the hospitality of the people they encountered on the route and said they have been well-fed with local food at almost every stage. 

Mac Au said her favorite food so far has been tacos and other Hispanic food provided to them when they went through Sacramento, while Frattaroli praised the authentic Italian food they were given while passing through Brooklyn. 

Catholics throughout the U.S. are encouraged to register to join the pilgrims in walking short sections of the pilgrimages and joining in numerous other special events put on by their local dioceses. To read ongoing coverage about the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and National Eucharistic Congress, visit the National Catholic Register.

Pope Francis fields questions from students about gender identity and LGBTQ discrimination

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square during his general audience on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Jun 20, 2024 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis participated in a live Q-and-A video call with university students on Thursday in which a bisexual student from the Philippines asked the pope to stop using “offensive language” and an Australian student expressed concern that teachers in Catholic schools are espousing gender theory.

In the one-hour conversation on June 20 organized by Loyola University’s Building Bridges Initiative, Pope Francis spoke directly to students from across the Asia-Pacific region.

Jack Lorenz Acebedo Rivera, a psychology student from a Catholic university in Manila who introduced himself as “JLove,” told the pope about how he feels stigmatized.

“I myself am outcasted and bullied due to my bisexuality, my gayness, my identity, and being the son of a single parent,” Acebedo said.

“My mother cannot divorce my father. Please allow divorce in the Philippines and stop using offensive language against the LGBTQIA+ community. This leads to immense pain. Due to this, I developed bipolar disorder and I am stigmatized,” the Filipino student added.

Elizabeth Fernandez, a law and business student from Sydney, expressed how many Catholic university students today feel “bombarded by circular ideologies, mock for our faith, and outnumbered in our mission to be beacons of hope.”

“We are also concerned that many young people receive shallow faith formation. Some religion teachers in Catholic schools use class time to preach their own agendas of abortion, contraception, and gender theory,” she said.

“We propose that all religion teachers be trained catechists and that young people be incentivized to become catechists themselves,” Fernandez said. “We want young people to also have greater access to confession and to have Christ integrated into all school subjects, thereby fostering a culture of greater reverence for the Eucharist.”

The Australian student also asked the pope to pray for her mother, Donna, who is the mother of nine children and was recently diagnosed with brain cancer.

The video livestream showed Pope Francis carefully taking notes on a piece of paper on his desk as each of the university students spoke and shared their concerns. The pope listened to multiple students before answering their questions all together as a group.

In his response, Pope Francis noted that the question of one’s personal identity was a recurring theme mentioned by many of the students. 

Pope Francis underlined that problems of discrimination can be solved with closeness and proximity.

Speaking in Spanish to the students who listened to a simultaneous English translation, the pope said that there is “discrimination against people based on identity,” including “gender discrimination.” The English translator on the video call translated this for the students as discrimination due to “sexual identity or orientation or gender discrimination,” although Pope Francis did not use the words “sexual identity or orientation.”

Francis went on to focus much of his response on the problem of discrimination against women in which women are treated as if they are in “a second category,” adding “but we see that today in the world women are the best leaders … and are superior to men in their ability to create community.”

“The capacity for motherhood gives women a much more effective position of action than men and this is important,” Pope Francis said.

“To sum up, no to discrimination … and yes to proximity, closeness,” he said. “This is what leads us to love.”

Pope Francis also addressed the issue of Catholic education, stressing the importance of having good faith formation so that young people know their faith well and are led to become “authentic Christians.”

In response to Elizabeth’s concern that Catholic students are mocked for their faith on campus, Pope Francis told her “Christians have always been persecuted from the very beginning.”

The pope warned that with persecution comes the temptation to “lukewarm Christianity” but underlined that “martyrdom is part of Christianity.”

In total, 12 students from Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines, South Korea, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand spoke to Pope Francis in the video call.

Hseih Hsiang, an electrical engineering student from Taiwan, told the pope: “Although Catholics are a minority in Taiwan, we have the freedom of sharing our faith without being threatened or not respected.”

In response to a concern from a student from Indonesia about technology isolating young people, Pope Francis said that technology can help, but it is not sufficient. He stressed the importance for young people to have a sense of belonging and asked the students to reflect on what is the real meaning of “belonging.”

The Building Bridges Initiative described the event as “a synodal encounter between Pope Francis and university students,” noting that the event was not officially part of the Synod on Synodality. 

Pope Francis will travel to the Asia Pacific region Sept. 2–13 in which he will visit Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Singapore.